When We Align



Nov 28, 2017
9:30 am
Alamo Drafthouse New Mission

When we align, we seek positive outcomes for a system whose components may range from people to patterns, beliefs to behaviors, and much more. When we align, we arrive at a shared understanding of priorities, efficiencies, and tradeoffs. When we align, the result is purposeful and even beautiful.

In this keynote, Cameron will discuss three aspects of alignment within systems, not the least of which are design systems, and the remarkable outcomes that are made possible when we align.

Sketch Notes

When We Align

Artist: Cindy Chang


Una Kravets:

So, we have some great talks that will actually teach you about Design Systems. I'm really, really excited to introduce our first speaker. We're kicking off the day with one of my favorite speakers, Cameron Moll. Cameron founded Authentic Jobs and is currently a product design manager on Facebook. He created Structures in Type, which is a series that reimagine buildings. My personal favorite is the Brooklyn Bridge. Cameron's work has been featured by NPR, HOW Magazine and many others that I haven't mentioned.

He is also an author and has a part in two books. CSS Mastery. Please give a round of applause for Cameron Moll.


Cameron Moll:

Good morning. What a privilege it is to be here with all of you. Am I projecting? Okay. As we get that figured out, let me just say, I've been speaking at conferences for about 12 years now and I average about one conference every one to two months and do you know how often I speak in my home state? About once every three years. California's now my home state so when I say it's a privilege to speak and to be here with all of you, I truly mean it because at the going rate, I won't be back until 2020 to speak.

We have such an amazing lineup of speakers. Can't believe you did that. I don't think I'd ever have to guts to do something like that. We have some wonderful speakers that are lined up over the next few days and, thank you for coming.

If you think I, or the other speakers, have this figured out? I'll be the first to tell you that is not the case. I look forward to learning from each of you and understanding what your with as you look at Design Systems and the places that you work. Some of you comes with loads of experience. Some of you are just beginning that journey based on a few I have talked to already.

I'll tell you a secret, speakers love to be interrupted between sessions. We know you come here to interact with each of you. We love to be interrupted when we're on our phones. I can't speak for everybody, but many of us use our phones to overcome the uncomfortable feeling of striking up a conversation. Please interrupt us at this event.

Most importantly, thank you to Jina and the other incredible people that worked tirelessly to put on this wonderful event.



I want to speak to you today about alignment. When we alignment, we seek positive outcomes with the systems we create. We seek consensus on priorities and efficiencies and when we align, results can be meaningful and even beautiful.

I want to talk to you about three things today, three principles related to it. Unity, chemistry over culture and people over process. > So, first, unity over uniformity. I'll tell you what, you all are doing important work. I am not involved in day to day rigor of Design System, I've done that previously in my career. But you are involved in extremely important work, whether you're just starting, do not give up. In 2006, I was tempted to give up. I was so, here's the to set the stage. In 2006, I was part of a 40 member design team. I was on number 16. We had 40 full time interactions advisors in 2006. That was kind of unheard of. You could probably count, on two hands, the number of companies in tech, that had 40 full time designers. To do it at a nonprofit was pretty crazy.

We didn't have a president like we do today for Design Systems and standards. We had the national park service. But we didn't have the Design Systems that we know today so we had to forge a lot of untreaded ground and it was it was really frustrating at times to figure out how we align this organizations with 40 designers working.

We got half the equation right. I was leading the effort. We called it visual unity. I think we got the visual unity right. The visual part was misaligned because we were focused on one aspect of being aligned in the organization.

Let me just say that unity and uniformity are essential to our work. Both seek alignment. Uniformity has an important role, probably the most common example I've seen throughout my career is brand integrity. So, allowing Design Systems that will protect that brand, specifically the logo on other instances of the brand. Left unchecked, what tends to happen with uniformity is it will replace efficiencies of the system above all else and so user experience with sometimes play second fiddle to the act desired to be consistent, to be performed.

I think there's a good test for understanding where the priorities lie whether you're focused on unity or focused on uniformity. How are departures from your established system handled? In the case of uniformity, we often issue a cease and assist work. Where in the case of unity, often is in response to what prompted the departure, is the difference is the rationale for that departure defensible? Should modifications be made that would accommodate these departures from what was established to be a system or organization?

Going back to that logo example. In the case of unity, would invite conversation about departures with why did the team depart that was established for the guidelines of the logo? What can we understand why the brand broke down? What was the ignorance of the expectations for brand integrity?

One of the ramifications the unforeseen ramifications when we priority uniformity over unity, how can the systems we build encourage unity and alignment versus uniformity? I'd like to share two highlights. The first one is in another context, design in general. I think it applies here as well. It's this idea of a soda machine. We've all used one of these. You've probably used them hundreds of time. You bring your cup up to the machine, you press the button and the liquid comes up from underneath.

The beautiful thing from this behavior is I can go from a McDonald's to seven 11 and this interaction, for the most part, is largely the same. There might be a lever on the back side over a button. Overall, the interaction is expected.

I don't know if you've used this particular model one of these before. The water dispenser on my fridge. Everything in the home was basically was bit in 1960 and we had to start replacing the flooring and fixture and the fridge. When people would come over to use this fridge for the first time, without question, this is what happened every single time.



In fact, it was so reliable that became a game when people came over and we would say can I have a drink of water? We were like, go ahead. I wish I would have done that. I wish I would have recorded this interaction to prove to you that 99 times out of 100, this is what happened. The reason this happened was intuition. There aren't any definitions in the dictionary of describing intuition. This is my attempt to do so to the degree that users successfully navigate new, unfamiliar experiences based on previous experience. That's why when they come to that fridge, they bring expectations of how it should function, except it doesn't work that way so we would say our fridge is not intuitive because it breaks those expectations.

Kind of like if you approach this door, you can't read it. It says push up there. There's a disconnect between what you're expecting that door to do. By the way, Donna's book is wonderful.

That's what happens when we look at unity and uniformity. We can argue two things, I think, in that example. One, is the rationale for the difference between the visual presentation and the fridge defensible? I think you could come up with a defensible argument for that. You would want a soda machine in your house. The aesthetics of having the chrome versus the industrial feel. You could make an argument about why visually those two things are different. I don't think you could make an argument about why the fridge functions that way. That's the distinction between uniformity and unity. Unity allows for differences that have defensible rationale behind them.

How many of you walked walked three blocks or more to get here? Oh, my gosh, wow. How many how many people walked three or more blocks in Salt Lake City? You know what I'm talking about, the walks are absolutely massive. They measure 660 feet. They have more than 170 feet of roadway and sidewalk between them. Here's what a typical walk in Salt Lake City looks like. Contrast with that, for example, Portland, Oregon. And Salt Lake City. You can fit nine blocks from Portland inside one city block in Salt Lake City. You would walk almost a half a mile to walk those three blocks. It's just incredible.

By the way, you can easily fit the entire footprint inside a block in Salt Lake City. You can fit most of the blocks in San Francisco, which have the footprint of the empire state building, as well.

If you look at what happened, in 1847, when settlers were in Salt Lake City, they drew up a plan for 135 lots that were each 10 acres and there was this idea of a unified community around that plan. A reason for that plan. So the idea was that I'll come back to that in just a second. The idea is do having agriculture and homes all within the same block and there was a lot of fluidity about how those blocks function. Today I'll fast forward through all of this. Today, what you get in Salt Lake City is something that resembles this. It is hostile for people coming to Salt Lake City for the first time. It is separated by wide roadways. That wasn't the plan originally. The plan drawn up was to not have streets to the very edges of each block, but to have them be paved where the cars would naturally drive. So, it was a much more cohesive environment, of riding, driving and so forth.

The reason, by the way, why streets are so wide are so much wider than most of the cities again, 170 feet. Back in the day, the idea was that you could turn around a wagon team on the street, 180 degrees, without resulting to profanity.

But what we've taken is this concept of a grid that was originally meant to be inspiration for community and we've taken it to prescriptive where everything is this perfect block cement everywhere for pedestrians. There's been an effort, in Salt Lake City, to bring back some of the original plan for more mixed shared space. You can't see too well from this image right here. This is downtown where they actually shrunk the street and they now have shops and that will line the edges. I think this is the risk that sometimes we don't foresee when we think about alignment and we speed towards uniformity. This is the result of focusing on uniformity versus unity.

I love this topic. But for now, let me say, please put unity above uniformity. I'll touch on this, on this topic.

Second, chemistry over culture. I think culture is an amazing thing. Culture is it's more than just behaviors and customs. It has social good, it's enabled the rise of democracy around the world. It's empowered the power our planet, singularly, not plural. Culture usually suggests some sort of grouping of similarities. Either be similar to those things or evolve to become similar.

However, societies and governments and corporations, problems arise when behavior is amplified by the absence of dissimilarties that would offset the system. That's why we speak about culture, we try to attach favorable adjectives such as a positive team culture just to make sure we're not talking about bad company culture. Unfortunately, culture, despite needing to unify and diversify, often leads to uniformity.

Chemistry, I like the word chemistry. In a workplace, these things might be people. They might be perspectives, backgrounds, customs, tools. It can lead to beautiful outcomes. It can lead to not so great outcomes. Culture is excused from this. We have plenty of examples of bad culture in our history. With chemistry, this isn't I'm not expecting you to go back and talk about chemistry with your with your teams.

I think the goal is to understand what's at play when you look at chemistry verses a person's culture. With chemistry, the focus is more on the properties of the chemical compound. When all of those elements are in play, we don't have to attach favorable adjectives. So, how do we emphasize chemistry over culture?

There are many ways to do this. I will share one with you. I think it's an easy one, you can start doing it today. It is this, just talk about it. Be the voice and start talking about the thing that matters to you. I'll give you a couple examples of this. This handsome fellow is Mike Davidson. When he arrived at Twitter, there was a male to female ratio 8:20. 80% male. Within a year after his arrival, it was at 50/50. What happened in Mike's first year to bring that team to gender parity? The gender is pretty simple. I talked to Mike about this. He said, I just started talking about it with my team. I had him on my podcast some time ago. Here's him describing what happened.

We started looking at our outlook and screening process, our interview process. The number behind how our team was comprised. We never set a goal of being 50/50. We just ended up being that way.

Some of the greatest movements in organizations. It happened merely by giving a voice to the problem. You can be that voice. You should be that voice. Let me give another example of this. So, back in the day you might not know this but when La Croix, when they were branded in 2003, I actually did their all this was in 2003, we're talking about. You remember the days, right? You bow how these things work. This was my project. I was leading the design team and functioning as a designer. On that same team, about a year before this effort, there was an individual his name was there it goes. There was an individual named Blake. We had a design huddle every Friday at 10:00 a.m. And I asked each person on the team to take a week and present something that they were passionate about. They had 10, 15, 20 minutes to talk about what mattered to them.

Our culture, at the time, was totally aligned around code. It was very engineering driven. It was the kind of culture where the engineer would build the thing and send it over to design. Hopefully you're not living those days now. Back then, it was very much the norm. Blake, it was his turn. He came and presented and I remember him standing out. I went to this conference recently, it was 2002. And they talked about CSS. I think we should start using CSS. As he described it, I'm thinking, good luck, buddy, with that. Good luck getting us to change from the culture we have now to that. But he persisted. He was just relentless and within a few weeks actually, a few months our entire area shifted to CSS development. Blake, I credit that one meeting we had and his shift to shake up our culture, to the launch of my career, and what I've done throughout my career, writing CSS and speaking at conferences about CSS.

Movements in our industry are uniformers. Be that voice, talk about it. Put chemistry above culture.

Third, people over process. You are stewards of systems that span disciplines and teams across the country. You have the privilege and the responsibility to be experts at people, at relationship building. At being experts of putting people above process. The most effective and enduring systems are rooted in strong relationships. Uniformity generally relies on the process. Unity relies on collaboration and relationships. Culture is an accomplice of unity.

Listen before leading. As system enablers, you are leaders. Whether or not your title carries, listening is the great neighbor of leadership. It fosters answering the right question, giving the right feedback. Design is about problem solving it, isn't it? Leadership is no different. It's about understanding the problem. Listening allows for it. Pause to listen.

Two, don't be a jerk to work with. I know it sounds crazy. But sometimes, we, as system stewards, can be difficult to work with. I've been in that position before. Colleagues said recently at Facebook said, I want to be known I want to be known for the team that's the nicest to work with. When you're nice to work with, everybody wants to work with you.

Three, don't let the essential Ts Elliot where is the wisdom we lost in the knowledge, where is the knowledge we've lost in the wisdom? We can rephrase his words as where is the essential lost in the important? Where is the important lost in the good? I would encourage all of us to prioritize the essential in your systems of design, priority unity. Demand uniformity when necessary, but encourage chemistry and creativity by tolerating defensive arguments. Empower people to experience.

Have strong opinions but hold on to those opinions and be willing to have your mind's changes by your peered. Be willing to experiment with chemistry. Sometimes it's better to be unified than to be right. Be opinionated, but be collaborative enough.

Five, I know only one way to success product and that is to ship perfect product said. It gets stuck in this, I'll fix this one more thing and I'll be done and it'll ship. Great designers are in a tussle between that and shipping. When you ship perfect products, you place people above product by getting it in their hands and empowering you. We have a poster that lines the halls of our walls that does done is better than perfect. That's very much the case.

And, six, this is a small room, but in my experience, it goes along way. Empower all the voices in the room to contribute. One of the most effective tools that I know of is to use your position, as moderator, to ensure everyone has a chance to speak. Grant a time, time constraints don't always allow everyone to speak.

If there is someone in the room who you might feel has something important to share or simply might not have the courage to interrupt others to speak up, ask for their input. It's so simple and yet so hard to remember to do this sometimes. As the moderator of that meeting, you have the power and privilege to ensure that everyone has a chance to share their voice in that meeting. Conversation in differences aside, there are two things that keep people around a company. Team members believe in the mission and direction and they feel empowered to change when that direction of that mission goes off course. And, two, they feel that they're operating at their full potential. People have a voice in their meetings or in communities can go along way to empower people to operate that their full potential and feel they're important.

Jina, how are we doing on time?

Jina Anne:

We're already late, so I don't know.


Cameron Moll:

Spend two minutes I want to mention the amazing work that's been done by my colleagues at Facebook with power design systems. Let me just wrap up and take a couple minutes to share. This is Shally. She was a CSS architect. Creative director at yahoo and one of the creators of yahoo's first Design System. Today, she's a design manager at Facebook for the interface team. Our Design Systems have a shared mission of helping other teams, other product teams, ship high quality, coherent product across the Facebook family.

And as I talked to them this week in preparation for speaking to you, the word they kept coming back to is facilitators. We need to facilitate teams and power teams to get things done. We support them and facilitate them. Prior to Shally's involvement, this was our design. This was our Dropbox folder and designers were basically cherry picked when they needed stuff. That was back in the day. Since then, we now have tools that are built into this interface that provide all kinds of tools that are built in to the tools that they already use, plug ins, that are built into tools they already use. Here, for example, this is one of our most important parts of the kit, the designers, had they made components for sketching, they go in and drop that into here and off they go. These are all very highly integrated sketches with origami studio.

We focus on impact and this philosophy goes to this team working on the Design Systems. It's embedded across the country. This team will measure the usage of how our tools, related to our Design System, on a regular basis. We're talking about engaging our components are being used and whether or not they're accomplishing the objectives they set out to accomplish. Shally and her team, they are looking for digital people to help so if that's something you're interested in please come talk to me and I'll put you in touch with Shally.

Unity over uniformity, chemistry over process, people over process. Thank you for having me today.


Note: the Q&A has been removed by request.